Friday, June 19, 2009

Preparing For Your Open Water Swim

Worried about how your transition to mass open water starts is going to be? There are a couple of things that come race day you should have practiced and prepared for. One of the most frightening parts of swimming open water is the fact that in most races you will never be able see more than inches underneath you in the water. For most pool swimmers we are used to seeing the bottom of the pool and knowing that it is there. Having the ability to use the bottom of the pool and the lines to keep us straight. One of the best ways to prepare yourself for this open water condition if you can not readily practice in one, is to swimming in a lap pool with your eyes closed for 6 or 7 strokes at a time to get use to swimming straight without the guidance of the bottom of the pool.

How to Guide Yourself Straight in Open Water
In open water swimming you need to be conscience of the fact that you don't have that pool line at the bottom of the pool to guide your way. The last thing you want to do is swim zig-zag in open water because a 1/2 mile swim will very quickly turn into a 3/4 mile swim. This is why i suggest that ever 25 yds in a pool you practice lifting your head out of the water to look in front of you. This can be done using a water polo stroke (freestyle swim with head out of water) or doing a breaststroke pull or two. Then when swimming open water to proceed to left your head out of the water around the same length of time. This will allow you to address the situation ahead of you and allow you to make sure your still on course. Also giving you and out every now and again from the dark water. I have one tactic i like to use all the time. That is to find someone who is swimming the same pace as me and swim parallel with him/her. If they are going straight and in the right direction then so are you. Although i don't highly recommend using just this method, as if the person you are swimming with is swimming the wrong way then so are you.

How to Approach the Mass Start
You need to also be prepare for the mass start which maybe anywhere from 30-1000+ people you may be hopping in the water with. Unless you are very confident about your abilities as an open swimmer I would suggest that you start anywhere from the end to the middle of the pack. Even if you have to wait 10 seconds for everyone to get into the water, being 10 seconds behind is must better then be swallowed up by the pack if you are too slow of a swimmer. In the long run this is saves you time and energy if you swim in a less dense area that you are more comfortable with.

How to Deal with Mid-Race Problems
Sometimes during a race your goggles my fill up with water, you may get panicked, or you may just need to rest some. If that is the case just get you head out of the water and do some breaststroke or backstroke. I found that a quick roll over to your back in order to fix your goggles or some other problem you may have is the quickest and most effective way of fixing a problem mid-race. It is good to practice this in the pool as well, instead of stopping on the edge really fast to fix a problem, try and practice doing while on your back doing a flutter kick. Then roll back over on your side when you are ready to go again.

What to do When Cramping, Panic or Fatigue Happens
Cramps, fatigue and panic do happen sometimes when swimming out in the open water. Since most races you can not reach the bottom normally stop mid race is not a option as you have no place to do so. Most races will allow you to either stop in a shallow spot on the side and/or they will allow you to hold onto one of the lifeguards floatation devices as long as you are not propelled forward. So if fear of finishing is your problem remember while your in there that you have a safety personal that is there to assist you if need be.

My Golden Rule
My number one golden rule when it comes to open water swimming is DO NOT kill yourself the first minute in the water. There is no reason to waste all your energy fighting to get past others if you are not the strongest of swimmers. Take it easy when you get in, it is a race but you don't want to burn yourself out in the first minute then find yourself fight to stay afloat at the very end.

Remember open water swimming is just like pool swimming just without walls as long as you can swim the distance you set out to do you will be fine. Don't get yourself all worked up, take a deep breathe before you get in and swim like you always do, just with a couple extra swimmers.

As I will continue to do, I ask you my fellow triathletes to post comments, ideas, questions, and answers.

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